Episode 1: Discovering Your Professional Motto
In the inaugural episode of Inside Cancer Careers, we are featuring a conversation between Dr. Mary Grace Katusiime and one of her mentors, Dr. Camille Lange. Dr. Lange shares the importance of building a strong professional network and having a personal professional motto throughout your journey.
Mary Grace recently completed her postdoctoral studies in the NCI's HIV Dynamics and Replication Program in the Center for Cancer Research, where her research focused on HIV persistence in perinatally infected children. She is now pursuing her goals in science education and outreach at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Center. Camille is a Scientific Program Manager at the Henry M. Jackson Foundation in support of the Military HIV Research Program.
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Dr. Camille M. Lange, Ph.D., MSc Bio
Dr. Camille M. Lange is a specialized infectious disease virologist who completed her post-doctoral training at the NCI, in the HIV Dynamics & Replication Program in 2020. She transitioned to a career in Scientific Program Management, first at the NIAID Vaccine Research Center and, currently at the Henry M Jackson Foundation In Support of The Military HIV Research Program. Currently, she is focused on the delivery of safe and effective vaccines for clinical trials and ultimately, the market. Dr. Lange’s early career was in allied health care services. She was an HIV clinical laboratory director in the Caribbean, an HIV drug resistance surveillance consultant for the World Health Organization and an Emergency Laboratory Technician and Team Lead during the 2014 Ebola outbreak in Sierra Leone. Dr. Lange has a BSC in Biochemistry & Biotechnology from the University of Birmingham UK, a MSc in Infection & Immunity and a PhD in Virology from University College London UK. Dr. Lange describes herself as a people-oriented professional who is committed to getting healthcare options to people that need them.
Dr. Mary Grace Katusiime, Ph.D. Bio
Dr. Katusiime earned her PhD in Medical Virology from Stellenbosch University. In her most recent role, she trained as a postdoctoral fellow in the HIV Dynamics and Replication Program at NCI-Frederick where her research characterized HIV-1 reservoirs in children with a focus on the proviral landscape and sites of integration in various cell subsets after long-term antiretroviral therapy. She also served on a career development detail with NCI’s Center for Cancer Training where she assisted in facilitating a high school summer program and developed and taught a course titled “viral epidemiology” for graduate students at Hood College. Her passion for empowering the next generation of young scientists has led her into the field of Science Education as a program manager at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Center.
- Foundation For Advanced Education in the Sciences (FAES)
- NIH Office of Clinical Research: Introduction to the Principles and Practice of Clinical Research course
- Diversity Career Development Program
- Dr_Meming Twitter account
- In the Light by Dr. Anita Phillips Podcast
- Piled Higher and Deeper (PhD) comics
OLIVER BOGLER: Hello and welcome to Inside Cancer Careers, a new podcast from the National Cancer Institute. I'm your host Oliver Bogler. I work at the NCI, in the Center for Cancer Training. It is an exciting time to be in the fight against cancer - there are moonshots, grand challenges, massive investments by governments and philanthropists and the pace of science keeps accelerating. There’s never been a better time to make discoveries about this malady, and contributions from many disciplines beyond biology and medicine are making a difference.
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On Inside Cancer Careers we will explore all the different ways that people join the fight against disease and hear the stories of young people on their own journeys to finding their place. Cancer careers are very rewarding but also very challenging and we will not shy away from talking about what it takes to succeed. You'll also hear from established professionals and benefit from their experience and advice.
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Join us every first and third Thursday of the month when new episodes of Inside Cancer Careers drop wherever you listen. I look forward to hearing your stories here on Inside Cancer Careers.
On our first episode of Inside Cancer Careers, we are featuring a conversation between Dr. Mary Grace Katusiime and one of her mentors, Dr. Camille Lange. Mary Grace recently completed her postdoctoral studies in the NCI's HIV Dynamics and Replication program, where her work focused on HIV persistence in perinatally infected children. She also worked on several initiatives with us in NCI's Center for Cancer Training and is now pursuing her goals in science education and outreach at the Fred Hutch Cancer Center in Seattle, Washington. Dr. Lange has been an inspiration to Mary Grace as we will hear, and her story illustrates the importance of building a strong professional network and following your direction.
MARY GRACE KATUSIIME: So, I have here with me today, Dr. Camille. Camille is a former colleague of mine at the HIV Dynamics and Replication Program. She is also, I would consider Camille a good friend of mine. We met in my first week as a postdoc at the NCI, bumped into each other in the hallways and immediately I could tell that this is a connection that will be very useful to me. We ended up living together because I came during Covid and did not have enough time to figure myself out and settle in completely.
So Camile offered me a room in her apartment graciously, but she also offered me a lot more than that. She was a wealth of knowledge and direction and insight for the postdoc journey, what I need to do to prepare myself, present myself. There's so much I learned from Camille and some of it we'll get into with our chat today. But I also want to say that Camille moved on from her postdoc into a scientific program manager role at NIH's Vaccine Research Center at NIAID.
And she has since moved on in the same capacity to the Henry Jackson Foundation in support of the military HIV research program. And so with that, I will welcome you Camille to today's podcast.
CAMILE LANGE: Thank you so much. I'm really excited to be here.
MARY GRACE: So, Camile, really early on when we met and started talking about careers and what it means to navigate the professional space as people with Ph.D.s, I remember a conversation where you kept using this word professional personal motto. And I always wondered like what is that? I know that you have one and I want you to tell us what is it and where did it come from?
CAMILLE: Sure. So, what is my personal professional motto is that I'm committed to getting healthcare options to people that need them.
MARY GRACE: What does it mean getting healthcare options to people that need them? What does that mean to you as a professional with a Ph.D.?
CAMILLE: Sure. It means that I am committed to getting concepts, scientific concepts, from the pre-clinical or laboratory perspective and taking it through to the end users who are the people that will use these healthcare options. There are a lot of steps that are in between those two things, and I've committed my career to that.
MARY GRACE: Where did this motto come from? Like how did you decide that as a professional you are someone who is pursuing getting healthcare options to people that need them? It sounds like a very well thought out description of what you're doing with your career, but how does one get to that?
CAMILLE: Sure. That's a really in-depth answer I'm going to give. So, it's a personal journey that's really motivated what this motto has become, which is actually very succinct. And I might dive into a little narrative about it, which is that it comes from my grandmother. So I come from a tiny little island that's a dot on the map in the developing world called Trinidad and Tobago.
And I was very close to my grandmother, and she helped raise me. And she had a healthcare issue when I was about 13 or 14 and there were no options for her to access for that issue. And she was in her clinician's office one day lamenting about this problem. And she always noticed these piles of magazines in his office, they were called Nature.
And I actually didn't know what that was either at that time, but she would come home and tell me about it, that these magazines in his office and what are they. And she said she was going to ask him to borrow one day to read it to see what it's about. My grandmother was illiterate for some time. She learned to read when she was a little bit older. So, she would read anything. So, she brought home one of these magazines that he randomly gave to her to read and just by chance there was a healthcare option in one of the articles that could potentially solve her problem.
So she went back to her clinician, she showed him the article, she said "I want this." It was at a preclinical stage, and he said, "Well I don't think this is on the market." And he explained to her what these articles were. And she decided she was going to get it, so she was somehow able to contact the manufacturers who are actually here in the U.S. She was able to buy it. She was able to get through all of the medical device approvals to import this object into the country for herself.
She was able to influence both her clinician as well as a team of clinicians, anesthesiologists, surgeons, etc., to put this device in her and organize the sites, and the payments, etc., and she got it done. And it solved her problem for about 10 years. And it was from that that actually my entire career probably began. And when I got my Ph.D., that's when I realized what she did.
And as I got to understand what the scientific literature was, I don't understand how she was able to do what she did. She's clearly a very effective woman. And when she died in particular, I decided that my entire career was going to be dedicated to people like my grandmother as people in all parts of the world, including here in the U.S., that can't access healthcare options and that may not be because they're not available. It may be because they're not accessible. It may be because those products have not yet left the lab or don't have the opportunities to leave the lab.
Or there are other items in that pipeline that get managed into what is a healthcare option that is deliverable to the market. So that's where it comes from.
MARY GRACE: Well, what a remarkable story of a woman with determination to access what she didn't have access to. And I must say, knowing you, it's no surprise that you come across as very determined in pursuing your professional endeavors. So, Camille, what's an example of how this motto, getting healthcare options to people that need them, how has it helped to guide certain pivotal career points for you in terms of your decision-making?
CAMILLE: Yeah. I've thought a lot about this in my own life and I will say that I repeat this motto to myself perhaps on a daily basis. I make every decision even in my day-to-day activities to date based on that one sentence. But I'll give an example of that in even deciding to move into a postdoc versus the career option that I had prior to doing that.
MARY GRACE: Okay.
CAMILLE: So, when I finished my Ph.D., I went to Sierra Leon to help with the Ebola outbreak in 2015. And I then was negotiating with Clinton Health Access Initiative to move to Zimbabwe to work for the director there to help to scale up laboratory capacity in that country.
MARY GRACE: Okay.
CAMILLE: And this was in the wheelhouse of my skills prior to me doing a Ph.D. And randomly I got an opportunity to come to the NIH to do a postdoc at the NCI in the HIV Dynamics and Replication Program.
MARY GRACE: At the same time?
CAMILLE: At the same time, yeah.
MARY GRACE: Okay.
CAMILLE: I had not applied for a postdoc, by the way, and I had no intention of going into academia.
MARY GRACE: So, decisions had to be made.
CAMILLE: A decision had to be made. In fact, I didn't even know what the NIH was if I'm brutally honest. That's how ignorant I was. But I have many mentors. I've always made it a point to have people who have had experiences beyond what I could imagine to help me in my career. Because I come from a place where no one understood what I was doing.
MARY GRACE: Yeah.
CAMILLE: Including myself.
MARY GRACE: And just as an aside, I would say one of the biggest lessons I've learned from you, which I was also very ignorant about pre my postdoc, is the value of networking and having a network.
CAMILLE: Networking is extremely useful. And so, I reached out to someone in my network that knew what the NIH was but also knew what the Clinton Health Access Initiative was. And I asked them what do you think? And this person also knew my motto.
And he said to me that if I went to the NIH, the opportunities that I would have as a result of that experience to get healthcare options to people that need them will only improve. And if I wanted to return to try, then I would be able to do that with more impactful capacities and networks to do what I wanted to do. So, the answer is NIH. And I also really connected with the mentor that I would have at the NIH.
So, I think what I described there is that I knew exactly what my motto was and when I chatted with my mentor who knew exactly what my motto was as well and my goal in my career, which was to get healthcare options for people that need them, our conversation was guided by that motto. He knew that that was the only aim that I had as well with my career choice. And as a result, I made a choice to come to the NIH based on that motto.
And the career that I have now as well is based on that motto as well. And that's an example of how I used that motto to guide my career.
MARY GRACE: Really good.
OLIVER: We'll hear more from Mary Grace and Camille after the break. But I wanted to take a moment to alert our listeners to an upcoming opportunity. In April, we will be at the annual meeting of the American Association for Cancer Research, AACR, in Orlando to share about how NCI supports cancer research training. With me today are two colleagues who can tell us more. First, Erika Ginsburg, director of the Office of Training and Education. Erika, what will you be talking about at our AACR session?
ERIKA GINSBURG: Well, NCI is known primarily for funding cancer research across the nation, but there are also numerous fellowships available to conduct basic clinical or genomic and population-based research at one of the three NCI campuses in Maryland. My team and I help take care of our trainees on these campuses. At AACR, you will hear about training opportunities as well as some of the career exploration and professional development resources provided to trainees within the intramural research program.
OLIVER: That sounds great. Erika, thank you. Let's turn to Nas Zahir, the director of the cancer training branch. Nas, what will you be sharing in the session?
NAS ZAHIR: I will be at AACR with several colleagues from the branch. My group will have informative presentations on NCI funding opportunities, including fellowships and career development awards, and they will share tips for preparing strong applications. I will be providing an overview of the session and serve as the session moderator.
OLIVER: It sounds fantastically helpful and useful to people thinking of submitting grants. All three of us will also be at the NCI booth in the exhibit hall from time to time. So come to our session where you can listen and ask questions and come to the booth and find out more there. We look forward to seeing you all in Orlando in April. Now, back to Mary Grace and Camille.
MARY GRACE: So, you have this motto that is guiding your career decision-making and it has brought you to the doors of the NIH. And you're a postdoc, you're doing your research, you're building your network, but for you what resources at the NCI during your postdoc enriched your journey in this pursuit that you're on?
CAMILLE: So, the NCI has so many resources. And when I came here I knew exactly what I was trying to achieve. I'm trying to get healthcare options to people that need them. And I worked as a postdoc in the HIV reservoir attempting to characterize the reservoir for HIV cure strategies. But that is not getting healthcare options to people that need them.
So, I looked in the FAES's website, I looked in the NCI's list of programs and courses that are available. And the three that stood out for me were first, I understood that getting healthcare options to people that need them required an understanding of clinical trials, which I did not have. So, in the Office of Clinical Research there were these courses that were available, and you can get certified at the end if you complete them, that would allow you to understand the process of the clinical trial and the approval processes at the FDA etcetera.
MARY GRACE: Okay.
CAMILLE: It was called the Office of Clinical Research's Introduction to the Principles of Clinical Research. So I did that course. It's free and available to postdocs. The other program that I did was perhaps the most impactful program that I did at the NIH. And it was under the Center for Cancer Training. And it was the Diversity Careers Development Program. And I was part of the inaugural year. And that also happened within the first, I would say month, of when I started my postdoc.
MARY GRACE: Okay.
CAMILLE: And so many of the skills that I learned from that program I continue to apply today. The ones that I remember of note were how to manage your manager. How to…
MARY GRACE: That's a good one.
CAMILLE: That's a really good one.
MARY GRACE: Yeah.
CAMILLE: Others were the scientific management and job postdoc job-driven courses that were inside of that program. And how to set your goals within your postdoc on a daily basis, on a weekly basis, and on a yearly basis so that I would get what I needed out of the postdoc, and I would deliver what I needed out of the postdoc to my mentors and other stakeholders and in a very tangible way.
Then the third one that I did was called the Scientific Management Series, which is offered by the FAES. And if you complete that, then you can do the Scientific Management Boot Camp. And by that time, I realized that my next career step would be to move into scientific management because I had a keen understanding of what happened at a preclinical level just being a postdoc and I wanted to move past that, closer to clinical trials.
And that came with scientific management.
MARY GRACE: Yeah.
CAMILLE: So those are just three of them, but there are many other resources here at the NCI and in the NIH to assist postdocs with career moves.
MARY GRACE: Yes. I will echo what you said about the DCDP program. I mean even for me, completely agree with all the things you said. It was very helpful with providing skills that I wouldn't otherwise have had from just my Ph.D. training. But what I'm hearing you say is that you were on some form of a trajectory and these skills were helping you set you on that path.
So, in our conversations and even with my own career navigation, we've always spoken about this concept of a job move versus a career move. And I like the way that you explain the difference between these two. So, expand on that for us.
CAMILLE: I think it's really important for us as postdocs to understand the difference between a career move and a job move. So the difference between a job and a career. So a career is what my motto is. It's this lifelong professional journey. It's something that I work towards achieving and I try to achieve that with the jobs that I undertake as work experience that serve my career goal.
MARY GRACE: Okay.
CAMILLE: Whereas a job is a role that I'm executing on a short-term basis to sustain myself and it's also sustaining the career that I want to do. It's based on day-to-day activities.
MARY GRACE: So not mutually exclusive is what I'm hearing you say.
CAMILLE: Indeed, not mutually exclusive. Some people aren't doing jobs, lucky them, but most likely you're doing a job and that's what contributes to my career. And maybe to hone it back to the Ph.D. experience and the postdocing experience, and I think that's common between us and perhaps others listening today, is that for me getting a Ph.D. was a career move.
It's not monetarily giving.
MARY GRACE: Yes, it's not a money-making profession.
CAMILLE: No. You sacrifice a lot to achieve this piece of paper that says you are a subject matter expert.
MARY GRACE: Indeed.
CAMILLE: So that's definitely a career move. And then when you become a postdoc, I think that a postdoc is both a career move as well as a job.
MARY GRACE: So, Camille, you have since moved on. You are no longer a postdoc and I'm interested to know, based on the experience you've had in the NCI, the resources you had, this career trajectory that you're on, and even the experiences you're having now outside of this postdoc role, looking back, what are some of the achievements from your postdoc that you are most proud of?
CAMILLE: I am most proud of how strong a scientist I have become directly as a result of my training at the NIH, but also my mentorship at the NCI. I know that the way that I approach science and my career, and my job currently is with a lot of critical thinking even of my own thoughts.
And I know that I am no longer impulsive in how I make decisions particularly in the scientific spaces. And it allows me to follow evidence. And especially now where I traverse a space with translational science, clinical trials, the regulatory components of getting preclinical candidates to market, that evidenced-based and tempered strategy that I have is a direct result of my training as a postdoc at the NCI.
And I'm very proud of what.
MARY GRACE: Yes. And you should be. It sounds like it achieved its purpose. You got out of it what you needed. And on I guess the other side of the coin, is there anything you would do differently. If you could go back five plus years and start your postdocing journey again, what would Camille, who knows what she knows now, do differently? Is there anything?
CAMILLE: Most definitely. So now I am extremely passionate about intellectual property.
MARY GRACE: Okay.
CAMILLE: And it is because of my introduction to my current roles. And if I could go back to my postdoc, I would explore the fellowships that were available to me when I was a postdoc. I just was not adventurous enough in trying to find the options that could be available to me to discover them. I found out about them after the fact. So, if I were to return to my postdoc, I would be more adventurous and try and find those items, fellowship in the Tech Transfer Office at the NCI, so that I could choose a career path that perhaps was even more streamlined to that agenda.
CAMILLE: What I should have done is perhaps ask someone, "What is intellectual property? What is the Tech Transfer Office? And can I do a fellowship or a detail in these?
Is that possible?" And I didn't do that because I didn't know that I could.
MARY GRACE: Yeah.
CAMILLE: And I would suggest to anybody doing a postdoc now to go to their mentors with anything that they're interested in or to anyone around in the NCI and just talk about your passions. And they may know what you're describing in the correct words.
MARY GRACE: Yeah.
CAMILLE: In fact, I live vicariously through you and any other mentees in telling you guys a lot of what I wish I had done.
MARY GRACE: I was just about to say the whole concept of doing a detail, even just knowing about the DCDP program, a lot of the things you're describing that you would have done are things you very early on told me about that I didn't know. So perhaps those "missed opportunities" are now becoming opportunities that people that you mentor are taking on. So in a way it's a win for me and the others.
CAMILLE: I hope so. It's something I'm really proud of. Anyone who is a mentee, I've been experimenting being a mentor, and somehow all of my mentees have been achieving exactly what they want to achieve and I'm really proud of that as well. It also makes me feel great that I'm not talking rubbish all the time.
MARY GRACE: Yeah. Well, I can attest to that. You're not talking rubbish, at least not for me. So what career advice then would you give to a current postdoc at the NCI? If you could say one thing to them that would help them really reframe the journey, they're on and personalize it for themselves, what would that be?
CAMILLE: It's very obvious, explore all your options at the NCI. Be open to new experiences even if it's outside of your comfort zone or you don't even understand it. And that's going to help you figure out your professional purpose and come up with a motto or something like that to have a tangible goal and then launch yourself into the next phase of your career as a result of your postdoc and an understanding of what your goal is.
MARY GRACE: Yeah. I mean that really captures the theme of what I've heard you say. And if I were to add anything to that, based on my experience and interactions with you, it would be that nobody gets anywhere alone, especially not in your postdoc journey. You need people who have walked that path and have had their fingers burned and have had successes to really shed some light for you on what you've signed up for and help you figure out where you are going and what your own career motto and professional pursuit is.
So, thanks, Camille. It's always insightful chatting with you about careers and life and everything else in between.
CAMILLE: Thank you.
OLIVER: Well, thank you very much, Camille, for sharing the story of your career so far and Mary Grace, for bringing Camille to the podcast and interviewing her. I thought it might be fun if the three of us share some recommendations with our listeners. We call this segment Your Turn. So I'll have a turn. I'm going to be recommending a Twitter account. So of course, I'm old, so I did my PhD long before Twitter was a thing. So, I have to live vicariously through people going through training right now and the account I'm going to recommend is called Doctor Meming that's DR_meming. And I admire Dr Meming they are always able to find that find the lighter side of being a biomedical trainee. And if I'm ever feeling a little bit down or need a quick pick me up during the day, I'll look at their account and I'll get a couple of laughs from the very funny memes they share about being a biomedical graduate student. And so that's my recommendation. Now over to you, Mary Grace.
MARY GRACE: So perhaps on a heavier note, I've been listening to a podcast called In the Light by a psychologist, Dr. Anita Phillips. And it has for me highlighted a lot of really important conversations about normalizing mental health issues and struggles that almost everyone has encountered at some point in their lives. And I have found it therapeutic to be able to connect with the experiences of people from different walks of life. And yeah, I would recommend anyone to just lean into such conversations, especially with the crises that we seem to be having more of in our current times. So that's mine and over to Camille.
CAMILLE: So, I'm going to recommend the comic series by your Haitian. And it's called Piled Higher and Deeper. And I know when I was a postdoc and even now when I am looking at a situation and I feel very disillusioned by it, when I read the comic, that is associated with it, I'm like, Oh, that's about right. And so, you know, we're like going through your postdoc and you're going through something like, you know, you sent a paper into review and it's a year later in your 10,000,000th review prospects, you can just read that comic and be like, Oh, that's about right.
OLIVER: That’s all we have time for on today’s episode of Inside Cancer Careers! Thank you for joining us and thank you to our guests.
We want to hear from you – your stories, your ideas and your feedback are always welcome. And you are invited to take your turn to make a recommendation we can share with our listeners. You can reach us at NCIICC@nih.gov.
Inside Cancer Careers is a collaboration between NCI’s Office of Communications and Public Liaison and the Center for Cancer Training.
It is produced by Angela Jones and Astrid Masfar and edited by Janette Goeser.
A special thanks to Lakshmi Grama and Sabrina Islam-Rahman.
Join us every first and third Thursday of the month when new episodes can be found wherever you listen. I'm your host Oliver Bogler from the National Cancer Institute and I look forward to sharing your stories here on Inside Cancer Careers.
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